Marcus Stroman and Understanding Service Time

Yesterday, Mets pitcher Marcus Stroman announced he is opting out of the 2020 MLB season after spending the last few weeks on the Injured List. He had been finishing his recovery from a torn calf.

Now, opting out due to the issues regarding COVID this year are not new, but it does seem strange that Stroman decided so late to opt-out. While we should take him at his word that he did it due to the recent cases in the Marlins and Cardinals organizations, I want to explore another possible reason: Stro is set to become a free agent at the end of the year. By waiting until now, he accrued enough service time while on the IL to hit free agency. If he opted out on Opening Day, the Mets would have retained his rights for another year.

What is Service Time?

Due to the unique nature of the MLB’s minor leagues and their free agency rules, the league has certain protocols that determine how players are eligible for arbitration and free agency. According to the MLB’s rulebook, service time is accrued based on how many days the player is on the major league roster (out of the 187 the season spans). Once a player is on a roster for 172 days, they’ve accrued one year of service time, whether that’s happened in one year or across multiple. That’s been pro-rated this year, so players gain 2.8 days of service time for every day they’re on the roster. After 6 seasons of service time, you’re eligible for free agency. So, Stroman taking this long allows him to control where he’ll be next year, as he’ll be a free agent.

So What?

Some people aren’t too happy about this maneuver. They think he just gamed the system in order to get to free agency quicker. Others have been praising him for this move, as it was a very smart one, both in the context of COVID and for his long-term future.

My Take

Here’s the thing: teams mess with service time all the time and we don’t bat an eye at it. Why do you think Tatis Jr. started last year in the minors? It helped them get an extra year of control over him. That’s exactly what Middlebrooks pointed out in his tweet. The MLB is a business. If Stro were on the Red Sox, or if I were a Mets fan, (paging Pete Chatterton) I’m sure I’d be mad. But that doesn’t mean it was “selfish” of him. Too often we think of anything a player does for themselves as selfish, but don’t apply the same standards to an organization. If we start looking at things that way, maybe we’d understand some of these decisions more.

– Pat Shuman (@PShu1996 on Twitter)

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